Philippe Hersant

French composer (born 1948 in Rome)

Philippe Hersant is one of the world's best-known contemporary composers. Clearly influenced by the musicians and literature he loves, Philippe Hersant creates a sound universe that is distinctly his own, and composes a rich, profound, abundant and varied corpus that imparts a feeling of utter freedom.

Composer Philippe Hersant took a course in modern literature at the University of Paris-Nanterre and writing classes at the Paris Conservatoire with Georges Hugon for harmony, Alain Weber for counterpoint and André Jolivet for composition.

In 1970, he went to study at the Casa Velaquez in Madrid on a two-year scholarship. On his return, he taught in the musicology department of the Paris IV-Sorbonne University while also working at France Musique, where he presented concerts and hosted programmes.
At the age of 30, in Rome, he started truly composing what he wanted to and developed his own distinctive language.
Initially drawn by orchestral composition, then in 1985 by writing for chamber music ensembles, he finally turned to the voice, for which he composed Lebenslauf, a song cycle written to poems by Hölderlin. He also composed miniatures, such as the 8 Duos  for viola and bassoon or the 5 Miniatures  for alto flute.

Philippe Hersant's corpus reflects his links with literature, poetry and theatre, as can be seen in Paysages avec ruines by the poet Georg Trakl or Illuminations by Arthur Rimbaud, for example.
He is inspired by the cinema and has worked with Nicolas Philibert, notably for the film Etre et avoir. At the request of the Opéra de Paris, he composed the ballet Hurlevent, which was first performed in 2002 by the dancer and choreograher Kader Belarbi, then in 2006 an opera called Le Moine noir, based on Chekhov.

Philippe Hersant's music is essentially consonant: dissonance is used only to underscore consonance. His language embraces the music of every era because, in his eyes, art is not divided into periods. In his music, he strives for a balance between great freedom and a certain formal evidence. Philippe Hersant is a humanist whose extensive culture infuses his compositions and produces a very varied repertoire for audiences' enjoyment.

Six landmark dates in the life of Philippe Hersant

1973: entered France Musique as a programme producer.
1978: took up a two-year scholarship at the Villa Medici in Rome.
1985: started working for the theatre on a collaborative basis with Jean Jourdheuil and Jean-François Peyret.
1998: appointed composer-in-residence with the Orchestre National de Lyon for two seasons.
2005:  received two "Victoires de la Musique classique" awards for Composer of the Year. 2008:  composer-in-residence with the Orchestre de Bretagne for three seasons.

Six key works by Philippe Hersant

1978: first performance of the initial version of Stances for orchestra by the Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique conducted by Gilbert Amy.
1986: first performance of the String Quartet No. 1, a Radio France commission, by the Quatuor Talich.
1992: First performance of the concert version of the one-act opera based on Jules Verne, Le Château des Carpathes. A Radio France commission, premiered at the Festival de Radio France et de Montpellier under the baton of David Robertson.
1998: First performance of the Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano by Alice Ader, Christophe Poiget and Isabelle Veyrier. A Radio France commission, premiered at Radio France.
2004: First performance of the Violin Concerto, performed by Augustin Dumay and the Orchestre National de France conducted by Jonathan Darlington. Premiered during the Festival Présences, at which the composer was the main guest.
2013:  First performance of Vêpres de la Vierge Marie for mixed choir, children's choir, baritone, 2 organs, bells, 2 cornets and 3 sackbuts. Premiered for the jubilee celebration of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Official website

Biography compiled from Radio France Documentation, December 2013